Photo: Me decked out in Heartbreak Hill Running Co. gear including Neon Bandits socks.
As you may have guessed, this post is about the three brands listed in the title of the post. What might not be obvious is what they have in common. One makes socks, one makes shoes and one makes clothing…how are they all related? They’re all based in Massachusetts and actively support adaptive athletes in the area. Anyone who has talked to me about running has heard about my work with Team With A Vision as a sighted guide. Supporting athletes of all abilities is something all of these companies believe in, which is why I’m profiling them here.
Photos: Neon Bandits socks in action
Neon Bandits is a sock company founded by a brother/sister team here in Massachusetts. They made custom socks for Team With A Vision’s Boston Marathon team last year and made even brighter ones this year. I talked with Samantha Cohen, the co-founder of the company…
1) How was Topo started and how did it end up being based in the Boston area?
After a long career in the footwear industry, and as a lifelong runner and athlete, I decided to start Topo Athletic with a vision to make the best natural running footwear in the world.
How did we end up in Boston? Well, first of all, Boston is considered one of the epicenters of shoe innovation and talent, and we are so fortunate to have such a strong team here at HQ! The city itself is also deeply rooted in the marathon/running culture, which is what led me here in the first place. After racing track & field and graduating from Tulsa University, I moved here to train harder with a few top runners on Boston’s north shore. That’s where my career in the shoe industry started. I’ve worked for Rockport and Vibram and now founded my own company here, headquartered in Framingham near the Mile 7 mark on the Boston Marathon course!
2) What makes your product stand out in the running shoe market?
Our fit and value. We don’t believe a shoe can fix the way you run, but we do believe that a good running shoe should deliver the comfort and fit you need to move naturally and remain active for a lifetime. That is why we liberate the foot by giving enough room for the toes to spread and splay, but fitted in the waist and heel to keep your foot secure on a neutral platform and then use lightweight materials so you don’t feel bogged down. We also strive to be the best at providing quality shoes at an affordable price point. This in itself requires exceptional design, planning and materials on our end to accomplish – it’s no small feat!
3) What does Move Better, Naturally mean and how do you describe it?
We believe in making exceptional shoes that help bring out your natural stride – in running and in life. Our simple, no-gimmick designs are created for people who like to move and want to continue moving injury free far into the future.
4) Kyle has been a brand ambassador since I met him. How did you guys initially become aware of each other?
Kyle’s wife played on the same rugby team as our vice president of finance & operations and our former marketing director. They go way back to before Topo was created.
5) In my experience, races that are inclusive and support adaptive athletes are a more enriching experience for everyone involved. How excited are you to see Kyle become the first ever VI runner to compete in the Western States Endurance Challenge in your shoes?
We agree! We consider ourselves an “athlete-inclusive” company: whatever activity you are doing at any stage of your athletic journey, we want to be there with you. Kyle’s pursuits are inspiring to say the least; it has been a true honor to witness his athletic journey and know our shoes were able to play a supporting role in that. Not only is Kyle an exceptional human being, but he tackles challenges like the upcoming Western States Endurance Challenge with grace and in a way that invites others to dream what else is possible for themselves.
You can purchase Topo Athletic shoes at Marathon Sports or on their website.
Photos: Waite Windbreaker & Relay kit (Cape Cod edition)
I am obsessed with cute running gear, add a retro feel and I’m all in. Even better when the gear performs amazingly too. I wore the Waite Windbreaker in last year’s monsoon of a Boston marathon and it was perfect. I spoke to Lee Glandorf who manages their PR…
1) What was the inspiration behind starting the brand?
After graduating from Yale University where he was a varsity track and cross country athlete, our founder and CEO Matt Taylor spent most of his career in the running industry working with world-class runners at top brands, like PUMA. Though deeply immersed in the business of running, Matt was frustrated with the slow pace of the industry, its homogeneous products and the “everyone gets a medal” mentality that diminished the reverence for personal achievement in favor of athleisure. So he set out to create Tracksmith: premium performance apparel, inspiring publications and distinct running experiences that celebrate the grace, style and tradition of competitive running.
2) What made you choose the Boston area?
Boston is our home. We were founded in Wellesley, in part because that’s where our founder was based, but also because of the rich running legacy in the area. Our first offices were on the halfway point of the Marathon course and when we moved to the city, we settled just around the corner from the Marathon finish line. We love the city’s rich tradition of collegiate and amateur running and are constantly inspired by the athletes we have the opportunity to interact with here. The running community in Boston is unlike any other.
3) What makes your apparel stand out in a huge market?
As a whole, the product offering in the running category is pretty homogeneous; remove the logos and everything looks and feels the same. Every brand is basically producing the same thing, with the same materials, in the same colors. We felt like there needed to be a brand that truly celebrated all of the unique elements of running, including the history and amateur culture, which also happens to be deeply rooted in New England. Our direct to consumer model allows us to create products and utilize materials that other brands – who are constrained by wholesale margins – cannot. This gives us the ability to create highly-considered product designed for a very specific running purpose.
4) Where are your technical fabrics (I swear by the Waite Windbreaker, I wore it in the marathon last year) created?
We’re obsessed with selecting materials and including details that make the biggest difference for runners – whether that’s in terms of comfort (i.e. making sure that there are no seams that will chafe on a long run) or utility (i.e. placing a phone pocket in the optimal location to reduce movement.) From our Swiss-made Eliot Stretch fabric, to our silky smooth Italian-made Bravio Blend or our Australian merino, we scour the globe for materials that perform for the garment’s specific function – whether that’s a training short, a racing tank or a base layer.
5) When did you make a conscious decision to give back to the Boston running community by offering free public workouts?
We’ve hosted free runs since our earliest days, starting with our traditional “Half on the Half” runs, where we’d go from our office in Wellesley to the finish line halfway through every month. When we opened the Trackhouse, we wanted it to be more than just a retail store, we really wanted to create a community hub for the Boston community, inspired by places like the Eliot Lounge, where runners of all levels – from pros to novices – would gather and celebrate the sport they loved. We’re so inspired by the athletes we encounter at the Trackhouse, and we get a lot of ideas and feedback that comes from having so many runners of all backgrounds pass through our doors.
6) What’s the biggest misconception about the brand?
We talk a lot about personal achievement and celebrate certain benchmarks like BQ’s or OTQs, which could suggest an emphasis on a certain kind or level of runner. Our goal in doing so is not to prioritize being “fast” but to highlight the meaning and value that come from committing to training and racing. Whether your goal is to break 3 hours or 5 hours in the Marathon, it’s born from the same love, the same amateur spirit, and that’s what we want to celebrate.
7) What is your most popular item?
Our Session Shorts have been perennial best-sellers. They’re a great example of how a material difference can really transform a training short.
I also reached out to Lou Serafini, the Community Outreach and Retail Manager at the Tracksmith Trackhouse on Newbury Street for more info about what’s happening there…
I started at Tracksmith 2 years ago but first got introduced to the brand at their Boston Marathon pop-up in 2016. I’ve always tried to take an interest in brands/groups that are driving the running industry. Especially in Boston. I got to know the co-founder, Matt and a few other people on the team over the years and had always tried to generate positive interactions. When they opened The Trackhouse, my name came up as a potential retail/community manager. They were looking for someone who could manage the shop and also grow a vibrant running community in Boston. I got the job and we’ve been working to provide a top notch experience at the Trackhouse for runners ever since.
One of the things I’ve been most impressed with since starting here has been the company’s commitment to community building. Hare A.C. is our effort to continue uniting runners not just locally but globally. It’s $128/year to join and open to anyone – regardless if you’re on another club. Members receive a uniform, unique number hand-stamped onto a race bib, early access to Tracksmith product and access to our Hare AC concierge. I’m the one that answers training questions for Hare A.C. members. Another cool thing is that if you run a PR as a Hare A.C. member you get a “PR Bonus” and receive $100 in Tracksmith credit. So the membership quickly pays for itself.
The program is not even a 1/2 year old and we’re eager to continue growing it and adding more benefits for our members!
Charles Sunglasses – I’m a big accessories guy so I love these shades. We partnered with Article One to create a sleek and stylish pair of running shades that don’t look like running shades. You can take them out on the town and nobody would ever know they were designed for running. They’re a bit pricey but very worth it in my opinion. They don’t fog or move at all. The stems are also bendable so they mold seamlessly to your face.
You can purchase Tracksmith’s gear at the trackhouse at 285 Newbury Street or on their website.
I personally use gear from all three brands and can whole heartedly recommend their products to anyone. The fact that they support many athletes who I call friends is an added bonus. So check out these Massachusetts based apparel companies today! Thanks to all three brands for taking part in my post, I really appreciate it. Happy Running!